A Q&A with “The Homelands of the Innocent” creators Anastasia Thanasoula and Theodoros Petropoulos
QUEENS — Every Saturday for the past two years, Anastasia Thanasoula and Theodoros Petropoulos have met to discuss the life of Dinos, the protagonist in the theatrical adaptation of Thanasoula’s novel “The Homelands of the Innocent.”
“Everything is thanks to Theodoros, because he gave life to my hero,” Thanasoula, who also acts in the play, says after a performance at the Greek Cultural Center in Astoria. Petropoulos, who contributed to the script, directs the play and is its lead actor.
Thanasoula, 33, a broadcast producer at the Greek-American nonprofit radio station COSMOS FM (91.5 FM), and Petropoulos, 45, whose U.S. work includes the 2018 movie “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life” have been friends for five years.
Inspired by Thanasoula’s grandfather’s experience after coming to the United States in the 1920s, the play explores themes of trauma, belonging, memory, and identity. At its core, it’s a tribute to Greek immigrants.
Thanasoula and Petropoulos spoke to the NYCity News Service about their hopes for the production—which is performed in Greek with English supertitles—and what it means to the Greek community.
The text has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why did you want to tell this story?
Anastasia Thanasoula As I say to my friends many times, we are cursed because we live between two countries. We have two homelands and our hearts beat in two places at the same time. When we go back to Greece, we are “the Americans.” When we are here, we are “the Greeks.” So, which one is our homeland?
What you’re describing sounds like the complexity of belonging in two different but connected spaces.
AT Greece is like my mother. Sometimes I get so pissed off with my country, you know? But deep inside, you love your mom. Despite the fact that you get angry, you get sad, you cry. America for me is the good auntie that always will give me hugs and will give me the treats for my better life. So I cannot tell you what my identity is.
Theodoros Petropoulos I love both. I love this country. Of course, I love my country too. But I love this country. That’s why I’m staying. Since day one, I’ve loved New York, and I thought, “Yes, this is the place I want to continue my life.” As a Greek actor, I had the dream of at some point trying to act in New York. After the financial crisis in 2008, I thought that it was a good time for me to take the step and move to the United States.
Anastasia, your grandfather worked as a miner in Utah for several decades. How did you become interested in his story?
AT I grew up with my grandmother, and we share the same name. So through her stories, I started to search for his life. I went to Utah last September and I felt so much at home. In Garfield County, I saw where my grandfather stepped, where his house was. I saw the sky that he used to see for 40 years. And there, for the first time in my life, I felt maybe here is my home. It’s weird because it’s not Greece, where I was born and grew up. It’s not New York City, where I have lived for the last six years. It was in Utah, where I went only for a trip. If you ask me now where I think my home is, the country roads go to Utah for me.
Theodoros, how did you prepare for the role?
TP I tried to imagine what kinds of feelings this character has. The sure thing is that there are moments that he could feel anything—from sarcasm to irony, to sadness, to anger. I enjoy it very much.
How did you two start collaborating?
TP I had already read her book so I knew the story. So when she proposed the play, I said “OK, why not? Let’s do it!” I know the character of Dinos so well.
AT We have spent so many hours talking and analyzing Dinos in his life and his journey. I don’t think there is a better man than Theodoros to direct and play this role.
Why do you think it’s important for the Greek-American community to remember the struggles of their ancestors who immigrated here?
TP History teaches us how to avoid the bad things in life, in society, in everything. If we forget, the same things will happen. People forget, or they don’t know their history.
AT For me, the goal of this play is for people to open up Google and start a search. I would like to make known to our community that things were not so easy for the Greeks. In Greece, we learn about schools, about the war with Türkiye and the second World War. We learn about our independence from the dictatorship. But also our history is here in the USA. It’s in Germany, it’s in Australia, too, because we have immigration in our DNA. Every 20 years, our people leave our country because of war, because of the financial crisis. It was awful.
It’s been 100 years since the time when this story takes place. What’s the same about the Greek experience in America and what is different?
AT Back then, it was worse because people didn’t go to study, they didn’t go to school. And that made things very hard for them. But now, things are so much better. The Greek-American community is a strong and respectable community. We have to pay tribute to our Greek ancestors for this. And the work of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, [a fraternal organization founded in 1922 to assist newly arrived Greek immigrants] helped a lot too.
TP I think now, things are much better. As Anastasia said, we know the language, we can speak English. One hundred years ago, people didn’t even know how to read or write in Greek.
What is your hope for the stage production?
TP I was thinking that maybe this play could make a tour to every Greek community in the U.S.
AT My deepest dream is for our script to become a Hollywood movie. Then we can give you an interview from the red carpet. Or if Broadway wants the play, I will say yes.
“The Homelands of the Innocent” will be presented at the Greek Cultural Center in Astoria on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm, through March 12.